Throwing Quality Bullpens – Part 1

Today’s post comes from Coach Jim Ozella, head varsity baseball coach at William S. Hart High School in Newhall, CA.  The Hart High Baseball program is one of the most successful and prominent high school programs in baseball-rich Southern California.  Coach Ozella is entering his 12th season as the Indians skipper and 30th overall in his coaching career.  He has coached numerous college and pro prospects, including Chris Valaika, James Shields, Mike Montgomery, Steve Susdorf, and Trevor Bauer.  To learn more about Coach Ozella and Hart High Baseball, visit www.harthighbaseball.com.

The development of young pitchers at the high school level is a complex and on-going process.  Pitchers coming into high school have been on strict pitch counts at younger ages, have developing growth and strength issues, and desire immediate success.  However, pitching at the high school level is a difficult chore with the advent of the aluminum bats and batting cages which allow hitters to improve on a daily basis.

Thus, the importance of throwing quality bullpens under coaching supervision is essential to pitching development.  Whether the bullpen is conducted on flat surface or on the pitching mound, pitchers must achieve the proper mechanics and a pitching game-plan to build a personal confidence to attack hitters in a game.   Often, young pitchers rush through bullpens without a purpose, thus making the results counter-productive.  Here are some suggestions to throwing quality bullpens:

1. Have a Purpose! – What is the goal of the bullpen? Are we focusing on throwing the fastball to spots? Are we trying to improve the change? Are we getting the fastball on the knees? Are we trying to “crowd” the hitter with the quality fastball? Are we trying to throw first pitch breaking balls for strikes? Is the focus on location? Is the focus on movement?  What are we trying to accomplish?

2. Be Game Like! – Are hitters standing in the box? Are we charting the results? Is the catcher giving signs? Is the catcher calling a game to prepare the pitcher for a game? Are we facing left-handed hitters? Are we facing right-handed hitters? Are we throwing from the stretch the majority of the time?

3. Focus on Mechanics! – Are we repeating our mechanics? Is the arm in the correct arm slot? Is the pitcher “leaking” out with his body? Are we using our legs properly? Are the results from the stretch the same as out of the windup? Is the head staying still? Are sound mechanics being used to reduce possible injury down the road?  Can we reduce the “violent” motions to achieve improved success?

4. STRIKES! STRIKES! STRIKES! – Are we ahead in the count all the time? Can we throw the first pitch, no matter the pitch, for a strike? Are 2 of the first 3 pitches strikes? Can the breaking ball be thrown for a strike? Is throwing strikes the main focus of the bullpen? Can we throw the fastball for a strike whenever we desire?

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